Teddy Ottinger is a test pilot who, after having two children, had her tubes tied and became a lesbian; she narrates this strange book. Broke, she is sent on a journalistic assignment to Katmandu to meet James Kelly, American serviceman who went missing from Vietnam and may have spent time as a drug dealer before becoming Kalki, the last avatar of Vishnu, who will do Shiva's dance on April 3rd and end this world. Is beautiful blond Kelly/Kalki really mad as most of his disciples (including his wife, the goddess Lakshmi) appear to be? And what about the bizarre pot-smoking CIA/DEA officer McCloud.
Will the world really end on April 3rd? And what will happen afterwards?
Vidal indulges his taste for wordplay and satirises the post-Watergate America.
There are some lovely lines:
- "Morgan liked the President. I thought him a creeping Jesus. The President, that is. Morgan was Judas in anyone's book." (p 9)
- "Neither of them had heard of Horace, Alexander Pope, Pascal, Diderot, Heisenberg's law or entropy." (p 17); Vidal can sometimes shove his impressive breadth of learning right up close in your face.
- "'Oh, everything's god.' Arlene looked about her at everything. In this case, everything was the redwood screen around the pool that she had painted yellow, a patch of smog-brown sky, dusty hibiscus bushes, the dead bird that the Japanese gardener kept forgetting to take out of the small cactus garden." (p 20)
- "Everything's out of control: population, the weather, the cells of each and every body." (p 21)
- "Sex is one of the few things I do really well now that my golf game has gone to pieces." (p 22)
- "Dr Ashok's crest was if not fallen aslant." (p 27)
- "'A nut?'
- 'Yes.' Not understanding me, Dr Ashok handed over his last package of dry salted peanuts.
- 'No. I meant crazy.'" (p 30)
- "potted plants whose fronds rustled in the arctic air of a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit." (p 33)
- "Yes, there is such a thing as a murderer's face. Look in the mirror." (p 41)
- "The sweat of blonds is different from ours." (p 64)
- "A bird in hand is no bird at all, though the bush burns." (p 79)
- "I had a good cry. What, I wonder, is a bad cry?" (p 80)
- "I fled to school. Anything to get away from home." (p 89)
- "I play a game. I must abide by the rules that I make." (p 155)
- "In eternity, only my dreams decorate the emptiness." (p 156)
- "Still waters run deep. Except, of course, to be precise, still waters don't run at all." (p 184)
There are moments of memorable technique:
- One of the bizarre characters, Dr Ashok, who speaks endlessly and delivers gloriously mashed-up misquotes from "the Bawd of Arden" amongst others, rattles off a whole series of rhetorical questions which nicely outline the questions that the narrator (and the reader) must ask themselves as they progress through the plot.
- Later he gives a large part of back story in a single breathless sentence almost half a page long.
May 2017; 274 pages
Vidal (1925 - 2012) was an important author. I have read and enjoyed other novels:
- Julian: the fictionalised memoirs of the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate as he attempts to undo the religious reforms of his uncle Constantine the Great
- Myra Breckinridge: a very sixties novel about a man who undergoes a sex change to become a woman
- His American history series of novels:
- Burr: about the Vice President who lost the presidency to Jefferson following a vote in the House of Representatives after a tie in the Electoral College; Burr had an incredible life having fought under Benedict Arnold in Canada, fought under Washington in the Revolutionary War, becoming a national hero; as Vice President duelling with political rival Alexander Hamilton and killing him; and allegedly fathering US President Martin van Buren.
- 1876: narrated by the narrator of Burr, Charles Schuyler who returns to the US after marrying Napoleonic royalty and comments on the disputed 1876 presidential election where Hayes lost the popular vote but won the electoral college vote
- Empire following the career of American president Teddy Roosevelt
- Washington DC: set in the eponymous capital and following the fortunes of the dynasty started by Charlie Schuyler as well as chronicling the controversial political struggles of Franklin Roosevelt before he became a heroic war leader.
Vidal wrote a lot more. Plenty more to enjoy!